Anime Wrap-up 2014: The Best, The Worst and The State of The Anime Medium – Part 3
Click here for PART 1.
Click here for PART 2.
Summer 2014 (A light in the wilderness, or our eyes
adapting to the darkness?)
Alas, my friends, the end times seemed not to be imminent, but to have already come and gone. The seasons did not transition so much as they merged and morphed into this unspeakable beast, grander in both temporal size and sheer depravity. Heroes might have tried to surmount the wickedness, but the proletariat had already been enslaved by a bourgeoisie whose red outlines and NEET lifestyle had siphoned all intellect and free thought from the finite cup of knowledge the proles all too infrequently sip from. By the summer of 2014 these destitute souls looked more like the all too docile species of even-toed ungulates. Needless to say, if there were any artwork that could awaken the hominin-like qualities of the anime community, it would not be found here. In this seemingly eternal night the few sparkles of light served nothing more than to scare these animals back into the bosom of their ecchi overlords. It is surprising, with time, how well you can see in the dark.
Akame ga Kill (not the sharpest tool in the cupboard)
Akame ga Kill is like a cheese greater. It thinks it’s so sharp and edgy, cutting up all that cheese, but is completely unaware it shreds one of the softest foodstuffs in the kitchen. Even if you try to clarify the cheese graters position in the greater world, it won’t listen; cheese graters are inanimate objects incapable of human speech comprehension, so there’s no changing its mind if it wants to think it’s a badass.
So, Akame ga Kill: it’s tough. It’s gritty. It’s hard. It’s not, absolutely not, not at all, not one bit. First off, let’s make it clear if you haven’t seen Akame ga Kill, the show is like that time you watch an episode of Inuyasha late on YTV, saw some blood and thought, “wow, this cartoon is for grown-ups.” Akame ga Kill is the more modernized version of that experience, and by that I mean there is more blood and more violence so the new generation can perceive it as “mature.”
Some individuals I must reluctantly refer to as “people” praise Akame ga Kill because nobody is safe and any character could die at any time. But are any of the characters likable, original, well-crafted, or enjoyable? Is the plot good enough for me to care if they die? Do the deaths have any impact on me as a viewer, or do they do nothing for you because Akame ga Kill has one of the worst cast of characters I have ever seen? Not only are they drawn from terrible tropes, but they even look horribly cliché, and I’m very lenient when it comes to critiquing character design.
Stop it world. Stop telling me that this show is good because people die. Do you want to know why killing off characters in literature and art is such a big deal? It’s because it’s hard to write a story with characters that are essential to driving the plot forward only to have them removed from there crucial position in the narrative. As a result, the killing of characters is only utilized by well-acclaimed writers who know what they are doing. Sure, the idea of an action show where nobody wears plot armour sounds like a good idea, but this isn’t how you go about it. In the end, what we all want is a show that truly describes the realism of combat, where you never know if you, or anyone else, will be alive come next morning. But to do this requires maintaining an atmosphere of seriousness and realism, something that Akame ga Kill’s cliché characters and inane humor cold never accomplish. Akame ga Kill gets a BAD… out of 10. This is a solid example of an unpleasant and terribly constructed anime.
Or so I thought…
In all honesty, I will admit that I wrote this review only after watching 1 and ¼ of an episode of Akame ga Kill. Compelled by the voices of many dear to me, I gave it another chance. And you know what? It gets worse.
Looking back the review I gave of Akame ga Kill, I realize I being was far too light. This show is far more dreadful than I initially thought. Every character, every power, every plot development, every fight, every death, every single line of dialogue! All of these things are offensively horrendous. The show has not a single redeeming quality to it outside of the fact that White Fox wasted a fare sum of money to make the show not painful to look at.
No, Akame ga Kill is worse than just some cheap gore used to bait angsty teens. It’s an insufferable example of everything you could ever do wrong in making a shounen anime. Akame ga Kill gets a far more appropriate HORRIFIC… out of 10. This show is a horrendous, atrocious, and dreadful work that is offensive to anime, as a medium.
Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun (a stale cracker)
I have a question to posit. What do you get when you take a one dimensional character built on common clichés, and preform a 180° flip on one character trait? The answer is, you get a one dimensional character built on the binary opposite of a common clichés. Take note of how both sentences contain a negative undertone. This was not unintentional.
Without a doubt I believe Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun was doomed from its conception. The show thinks that all you need to do to be a shoujo parody comedy is have cardboard cut-out character that neither develop, grow, nor do anything interesting so far as they are built with a slight variation of a common trope. Surely you see the error in this formula, but then again, considering the love this show commandeers I guess I need to elaborate.
A trope is bad because it is predictable. People don’t like watching predictable things, especially when it comes to comedy. At the same time, playing with tropes is a great way to do comedy, because people don’t expect it. Unfortunately, when every single character is a twist on some cliché, every character introduction, let alone interaction, becomes predictable. Once I understood Gekkan Shoujo’s modus operandi I found myself being able to predict what each character’s twist was going to be before the joke even dropped. And to be fair, they are far from ingenious alterations on pre-established conventions.
Instead of the handsome guy all the girls love (the prince), we get the handsome girl all the girls love (the female prince). Instead of the gorgeous protagonist with the dreamy personality, we get the gorgeous protagonist with no personality. Instead of a kindhearted choir girl, we get a crass choir girl. Instead of the moe-girl, we have the moe-guy.
Now I know what you’re saying, “Sounds like it could be really interesting to see how they interact and function in the plot.” Well, to put it simply, Gekkan Shoujo has no plot and the character interactions are easily predicted after grasping what trope each character is “parodying”.
But the biggest issue I’d have to say is that the show is painfully unfunny. I found that one part of one episode conjured up some chuckles and a faint sense of enjoyment, but that’s a failing grade when you consider the show has 12 full length episodes that all try to be funny.
So Gekkan Shoujou Nozaki-kun is best thought of as a stale cracker. Crackers are the vehicles by which certain foods are enjoyed, and Gekkan Shoujo had the potential to be the vehicle by which many laughs could be made. After all, its concept looks interesting on paper. But unfortunately, the lazy so-called “parodying” of shoujo characters makes the show an insufficient receptacle for any kind of humor. Regardless of what shenanigans the cast gets up to, that dry and crusty foundation the show is built on leaves nothing but a stale taste in your mouth. As a result Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun receives a BELOW AVERAGE… out of 10. This is a show that contains more faults than merits, making it an unpleasant piece of media to watch.
Tokyo Ghoul & Aldnoah Zero (talk to me when the shows ACTUALLY end)
There are always a few hyped up shows I decide to skip, mainly so that way they can be binged down at my own discretion on a later occasion. In addition though, it helps save me from the midseason cliff-hangers whose sole purpose is to be an act of psychological manipulation so strong that it leaves the viewer with an insatiable craving for more. A desire so strong that it can last 4 straight months till the next season approaches. Such mental assaults are not my cup of tea, so when I heard both Tokyo Ghoul and Aldnoah Zero, after 1 cour, were incomplete works, it made my life easier. I’ll be waiting for once their winter 2015 seasons end, so until then I have nothing to say on these big name titles. If you want some thoughts on Aldnoah Zero though, Vault writer ussburntcorn has a review of the first season of it. Otherwise they receive an UNRATED… out of 10. This show may be the one of the greatest pieces of art ever made, or one of the most retched piece of trash ever conceived. At this time, I simply do not know.
Zankyou no Terror (terrorists really need to grow up)
People talk of Zankyou no Terror, or Terror in Resonance, as one of the standout series of the summer. It must be stated however, that standing can be considered quite an accomplishment when the competition simply flops about on the floor like a dying fish.
Yep, by now you know what I’m going to say: Terror in Resonance is another show that is good only in the relative sense. While an interesting premise and good animation gives the show the hook needed to reel in a large viewership, these attributes immediately appear to be but cheap bate slathered onto the rusty coat rack used for the sole purpose of pulling viewers into their far from fully thought out world. What Zankyou no Terror proceeds to do is merely drop viewers onto the ship’s deck, left to gasp for air until finally succumbing to the inhospitable environment above the ocean. It’s an exemplar of sloppy craftsmanship and poor creativity, exploiting the buzz word of terrorism only to do nothing with it.
Let’s start off with the cast: our romanticized terrorists, named 12 and 9, are two boys of high school age (and fulfill standard anime bylaw regulations by actually going to school in episode 1); one possesses the character traits of cold and calculating, while the other is the binary opposite of that. Ask how you can have a kind and nice-guy terrorist? Well, these boys are good terrorists in that they don’t kill anyone in their terrorist attacks, only causing incalculable amounts of damage to city infrastructure, business and the daily lives of average people. But how do they manage not to kill people when bringing massive skyscrapers to the ground? Oh silly, they pull the fire alarm and everyone makes it out safe and sound with absolutely no collateral damage (you might be hearing this in a sarcastic tone but the statement is true; when the terrorists don’t wanna kill people, their massive explosions and huge undertakings simply don’t).
It might sound like I’m straw-manning a very unique and intriguing concept, but keep in mind execution is essential for any idea to be truly actualized, and Zankyou no Terror is a pacifist in that sense as well. Other characters do nothing but burden the plot with their very presence and ruin any sense of focus and seriousness attached to the previously stated premise. We have our other main character Lisa, who supposedly is the lens by which we view the terrorists story; but due to her lacking any characterization, possessing a pitiful backstory and almost seeming purpose built to take the plot away from any and all intriguing terrorism for the sake of some corny, one dimensional romantic subplot, she is the anchor incarcerating the show in the shores of shounen cliché. Then we have the bad-guy, called 5. A character so trite and pointless I can’t fully express her inanity in words. Some terrible concoction of diabolical yet caring, smart yet insane, enemy yet not-really-enemy-kind-of. That’s the best way to sum up her contradictory and incomprehensible “personality”.
Really though, my main gripe was the direction of the plot [This paragraph contains HUGE Spoilers!]. How did children manage to get jobs in a nuclear repository, let alone steal enough to make an actual bomb? If they were being reared to possess superhuman intelligence and savant syndrome levels of skill, why were they being taught Greek classics? Who on earth, let alone in Japan, has any advanced knowledge of Biblical Apocrypha? But most important of all, their grandiose plan. Their plan is to terrorize Tokyo, and pretty much all of Japan, such that they will have the media attention to tell the world of the atrocity they experienced at the hands of Japan’s secret superhuman rearing project. The only issue is that all that’s needed to get that kind of attention is really one major terrorist attack; why keep blowing stuff up past episode 1? The media frenzy after just two terrorist attacks seems more than enough to fulfil their objective. I guess the kids just weren’t as smart as they looked.
While a good detective character, OK pacing and a take-away message I have no trouble enjoying help make the show definitely more than mediocre, they just can’t push my opinion against the relentless tide of criticisms my viewing experience exposed. In the end, I think the single most powerful alteration the story could have used would be to make our protagonists adults, or at least not look like children. Shows with children can be serious, but actually capturing that sensation in a world almost exactly similar to our own is a highly improbable task at best. I mean, if these kids are the product of some government plot to raise Japanese savants then why are they so young? Shouldn’t the Japanese have started this project back during the economic boom in the post-war era, before the crash of the late 80’s? The fact that the protagonists are children almost comes across as a plot hole. Call me cynical, but our teen protagonists feel like they were purpose built to pander to the teen demographic, a crippling tendency that shackles anime as a whole and supresses any diversification of the medium beyond its adolescent comfort zone. So without further ado, Zankyou no Terror receives an ABOVE AVERAGE… out of 10. This is a show whose merits outweigh its faults, making it an overall (somewhat) enjoyable piece of media to watch.
Sword Art Online II (the purest disappointment RETURNS)
The ghost of seasons past visits us once again. The most controversial show possibly ever made has returned from the great beyond to bring back the age old debate, “Is Sword Art Online any good?” No, it’s not. “Well, is Sword Art Online II any good?” Nope, still not. But, if you ask the question, “How bad is Sword Art Online II compared to season one?” well, then I think we can have an interesting discussion.
It’s best to look at the two seasons of SAO as being broken up into 2 halves based on the games they are playing. You have the Sword Art Online (first season, first half), ALfheim Online (first season, second half), Gun Gale Online (second season, first half), and ALfheim Online Again (second season, second half). Each part is not good in its own special way and I feel these nuances are important, because the experience of SAO ranges from amusingly bad to unwatchably atrocious.
When it come to the first season of SAO I hold, what I believe to be, the orthodox viewpoint. The Sword Art Online half was greater than the ALfhiem Online half. Sword Art Online had the illusion of presenting an interesting concept in a gorgeous looking world but failed in pretty much every respect, while ALfhiem felt like a shoe-horned in extension that defies all sense of causality and rationality, but most importantly of all, held no illusion to the fact it was utter dreck. You might say the illusion of something being good isn’t really a merit now is it. You would be correct, but when talking about SAO you really are splitting hairs when it comes to the actual quality of content. ALfhiem online, from beginning to end, was going to be bad, and we knew it. Sword Art Online, at least in the very early beginning, looked to be good, and that’s what makes the experience of the first half far better than that of the second. But, just to inculcate this into your minds, let me restate one more time, both parts of the first season are awful.
Now we come to SAOII and we have two very experience. Let me pre-emptily state that, knowing watching SAO II would be a struggle, I pulled out all the stops to make it through this series with my sanity intact. I got all “the boys” together and made it a multi-day event of mocking the show on a minute by minute basis. As a result those experiences give me a slight rose-tinted vision of SAO II. Don’t worry; shit still looks like shit even if there is a slight red tint to it. It may sound like SAO II has merits, but keep in mind, as stated earlier, it does not.
For the most part, the beginning of Gun Gale Online is a contrived retcon of Kirito into some new adventure that way to conveniently requires him to go in some new game that is way too continently attached to the Sword Art Online game. This combined with stale character interactions makes for an overall boring start. Every aspect of the plot is anemic, and so is the brown on brown color pallet of the gun gale world. There is one positive point I would like to mention, and that is Sinon. SAO commits elementary level crime against making good narrative, but one criminal offense that sticks out the most is their lifeless characters. That is why Sinon is interesting; she gets a backstory, a fleshing out of personality, and even a struggle she fights against. Are these personality traits and backstories good? No. But it’s most certainly an improvement from having no backstories at all (literally name ONE character in SAO other than her that has a backstory, ONE).
Unfortunately by halfway into Gun Gale Online Sinon remembers she is a woman; more importantly a woman in SAO. Coming to this sad conclusion she proceeds to break into tears and become absolutely dependant on strongman Kirito to accomplish anything. With the only positive attribute of the show gone, it was only a question of how low the rabbit hole will go before reaching rock bottom. What we get are more Kirito being omnipotent, more unnecessary cameos from the rest of the SAO cast, a lame tournament, a terrible lore for our terrible villain, Kirito saving the day, then saving the girl, and a final reveal to what the bad guy’s true gripes with society were. Let’s me just say SAO has a hard time not taking its games too seriously, but that villain is just the most unspeakably stupid thing I have seen in the show thus far.
But now we come to the final half of SAO II, and let me just say, before we started watching part 2, things were looking up. Me and my allies bent on the conquest of SAO II had managed to scale 14 episodes of the show in good spirits while managing to take away a few good laughs at SAO II’s insipidness. But at the precipice of starting the second half of the show, we all, unanimously, without a single disagreement, decided to quite on the spot. I mean just look at the beginning of the second half. The characters are doing a quest in ALfheim? Who wants to see that? The beginning of the arc begins with a dialogue seen from some random NPC we don’t care about talking about some issue in the game we don’t care about, and giving the characters a quest we, simply, don’t, care, about. So I never finished SAO II, but I still feel I have watched enough of the show to rate it authoritatively. The fact that the show presented an episode as mind-numbingly bad as episode 15 is a fault within itself. To make a single episode so dreadful it killed off an entire 4 man crew that said, without excuse, that they would conquer SAO II, is simply unacceptable.
So in conclusion the current ranking of the SAO halves look as such: Sword Art Online > Gun Gale Online > ALfhiem Online > ALfhiem Online Again. But, lets us not forget, overall, both season of Sword Art Online get a HORRIFIC… out of 10. This show is a horrendous, atrocious, and dreadful work that is offensive to anime, as a medium.
Also, if you want to see some dissenting opinions, check out AlexHex’s Sword Art Online Review. Just keep in mind he’s wrong… except for the far more important overarching statement that Sword Art Online is bad; there, he is correct.
Barakamon (on a quaint tropical island all its own)
It was only a few months ago I expressed my views on the slice-of-life genre. For those of you already too annoyed at the length of this article to go read another, the take-away message was that slice-of-life has an interesting potential to it, but that no anime to date has fully realized what that potential is. It came as an almost unsettling coincidence then to find Barakamon: a-slice-of-life which addresses my issues with the genre so well that it almost feels bestowed upon me by the cruel and toying anime gods, as a way for them to exert there ever-mischievous presence in the medium.
Barakamon follows the story of a professional calligrapher, defined by such endearing traits as punching old men in the face for criticising his writing style (even though said old man is an actually calligraphy critique, whose job it is do criticize). This results in Mr. Beats-old-men moving to a tropical island to hone his craft and regain his honour by making an astounding re-entry into the calligraphy seen. Of course, people live on this island, and his experience with them goes on to shape his character into not being the most unethical waste-product humanity has ever created.
The concept is brilliant in that it has a lot of potential to make for a very emotional and compelling slice-of-life, and Barakomon actually utilizes this potential rather than pulling a Zankyou no Terrible. While the vast majority of episodes spend their days doing the usual slice-of-life antics that have no connection to an overarching plot, in reality, everything is connected because every slice-of-life experience has an effect on the personality and development of our main character; and his growth is the overarching plot of the show. That’s the genius! The show uses the atmosphere and experiences of mundane life events to advance the growth of a character so detached from a normal life that he can actual gain something from the experience.
In addition, we have a great setting that seems almost stolen from Non Non Biyori, except this time around we get good characters to populate it. Utilizing the “simple pleasures” approach to slice-of-life atmosphere, the island is filled mostly with kids and some old people. The childish sense of wonder and excitement that comes with each day becomes almost palpable as Mr. Fights-the-elderly embarks with the kids on their daily outings. Combine this with the wonderful aspects of close-nit communities comprised solely of caring individuals and you have an ambience of charm and joy. While there are a few characters that would have fared far better if they weren’t built to be nothing but comedic relief, the show as a whole has a cast that, while far from complex, always retains that sense of being genuine.
The thing that really elevates Barakamon above the mindless moe-blobs that dominate its genre is the way the show pulls together all the life lessons Mr. Smackdown-vs-grandpa has learned and integrates them all into one big life lesson for the final arc of the show. Really, by the end of the show, you completely forget how terrible our main character was in beating the living hell out of a frail old man (but then you watch episode one again to write your thoughts in a 2014 anime wrap-up and you quickly remember).
Regardless, Barakamon is a fantastic show that really uses the slice-of-life format in a bright and refreshing way. Along with raising the bar for what slice-of-life can do, it also raises a fist to the competitors and shows how frail and elderly they are. Barakamon receives a GREAT… out of 10. This show is simply exceptional and excels far beyond most anime in its genre.
Hanamonogatari (grabs you by the Shaft and doesn’t let go)
The latest piece of porn to be ejaculated out of the Monogatari series is quite a peculiar one, in that it really isn’t soft-core porn at all. The fanservice is minimal (especially by this show’s standards) and the focus is, for once, true to the shows name, and centered on story. Unfortunately this is where the positive points end. Hanamonogatari is just another shining example of everything wrong with the Monogatari series, outside of its wonton indecency.
Following the old formula of retconning a new story outside out of some pre-existing character’s past rather than building a story out of some sense of character growth, the show follows Kanbaru. She appears to be concerned with a rumor going around about a devil that grants wishes, and thinks she might be the devil in question (I’d point out the issues with this setup, but to mock it almost feels like going after the low hanging fruit). For no apparent reason, this arc takes place so far in the future that pretty much no pre-existing characters are in town anymore, except for Araragi’s little sisters and Kaiki “Best-girl” Deishu. It’s from this bizarre design choice that most of the shows problems come from.
Every new character either has incredibly longwinded exposition sequences or no characterization at all. Numachi takes full advantage of Monogatari’s longstanding tolerance of exposition dumps and takes center stage of the basketball court to tell the viewer her incredibly verbose life story. And let’s just say you are a real trooper if you can stay awake for it all, let alone care about her tragic backstory.
So you know where it goes from here. We’ve got a problem that needs to be solved. And we need a man to solve it. But at least this time around this isn’t the case, and Kanbaru actually solves her own problem for herself. Unfortunately the solution is quite dumb and you will wonder why you wasted 116 minutes of your life waiting to see such a painfully disappointing payoff.
In short, it’s just another season of Monogatari. Annoying words pop up on screen too fast for you to read them, and every time you pause the show to read them they end up being either redundant or pointless. Dialogue is like a thick vicious fluid spilling from the characters mouth and clogging any hope of having good pacing. Overall though, Hanamonogatari doesn’t change my view of the Monogatari series as a whole, it only solidifies it. Since it doesn’t make sense to rate the 5th anime in the Monogatari series separately, I will reaffirm the score I give to Monogatari as a whole. The Monogatari series (Bakemonogatari, Nisemonogatari, Nekomonogatari: Kuro, Second Season, and Hanamonogatari) gets a BELOW AVERAGE… out of 10. This is a show that contains more faults than merits, making it an unpleasant piece of media to watch.